The issue of presidential czars raises questions in fundamental areas of governance. President Obama’s use of policy czars leads to demonstrable problems in government oversight and accountability. As many of the positions are designated simply as advisors or coordinators, the individuals are not readily subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), even if they serve within agencies legally obliged by FOIA; and because they have reportedly been instructed by the White House not to testify before Congress, their actions remain shrouded in secrecy. Any information as to their roles and influence is revealed when, and to the extent, the administration sees fit.
In an attempt to obtain basic information on the role of each of the czars in the Obama administration, Judicial Watch conducted an investigation into the mission, budget, and staffing of Obama administration czars. Considering President Obama’s instruction to the heads of executive departments and agencies that “the presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA,” one would expect timely, substantive and complete responses to requests for basic information. However, rather than fulfilling campaign promises of transparency, the Obama administration has largely disregarded Judicial Watch’s requests. Despite submitting document requests for 41 czars – covering missions, budget, and staffing – Judicial Watch has only received a limited number of total responses. Of these responses, only a few provided the information requested within the statutory time frame, and even fewer submitted documents that could even remotely be considered substantively responsive.
Judicial Watch has also investigated a number of specific policy czars. Most recently, Judicial watch uncovered documents demonstrating intense involvement by former “Consumer Czar” Elizabeth Warren in a 50-state settlement underway with the nation’s largest mortgage lenders. Judicial Watch also recently uncovered documents detailing administration attempts to exclude the Fox News Channel from interviews with former Executive Pay Czar, Kenneth Feinberg.